New Species Of Ancient Crocodile-Like Reptile Discovered
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redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Researchers from Mesalands Community College and the Museum of Texas Tech University’s Division of Paleontology have discovered fossils belonging to a new species of the phytosaur Machaeroprosopus.
These approximately 17-foot-long, crocodile-like reptiles died out more than 200 million years ago and were discovered in an oxbow lake, according to National Geographic’s Christine Dell’Amore. They were named Machaeroprosopus lottorum in honor of the Lott family, which owned the ranch where the remains were initially discovered in summer 2001, she added.
Writing in the journal Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the researchers explained that the discovery of the new species is based on two specimens from the Upper Triassic Cooper Canyon Formation of Texas. Both specimens were skulls — the first was poorly preserved; the second was in good condition.
Study co-author Doug Cunningham, a field research assistant at the Museum of Texas Tech University, said that he and his colleagues were “kind of in awe of” the second skull when they dug it up. He explained that the unusual specimen had a “long, skinny snout” and was “quite a bit different” from those of previously identified phytosaurs.
The skull was analyzed by other paleontologists, Dell’Amore said, and those researchers noticed that the supratemporal fenestra (an opening at the top of the skull) was in a different location than on other known types of phytosaurs. Now that it has been identified as a new species, Cunningham and his associates believe that there may be other, not-yet-identified species of Triassic phytosaurs out there, awaiting discovery.
“The scientists think the two skulls represent a male and a female. One of the skulls sports a bony crest that stretches from nostril to beak tip. Many paleontologists believe these were female-attracting features found only on male animals. The other skull did not have such a crest,” the National Geographic writer added.
Appalachian State University phytosaur expert Andy Heckert, who was not involved in the study, “agreed with the theory that… the skulls represent different sexes.”
Cunningham and his team wrote that Machaeroprosopus lottorum was also characterized by a comparatively short squamosal bone (the principal part of the cheek area of the skull), a flat and corrugated narial (nostril) rim and palatine bones that were medially extended and nearly formed an ossified secondary palate.
In addition to Cunningham, authors of the study include Dr. Axel Hungerbühler, the Natural Science Faculty & Museum Curator at Mesalands Community College in New Mexico, and Bill Mueller and Sankar Chatterjee of the Museum of Texas Tech University. Chatterjee is the curator of paleontology at the museum and Mueller is the assistant curator.